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Our Founding Realtor

We celebrated President’s Day in February, so it seemed like a good time to look beneath the blizzard of conventional admiration for George Washington, the nation’s founding realtor. 

America’s founders were eloquent in their speeches about liberty and “the pursuit of happiness” and the rest. They deserve credit for putting their considerable wealth on the line (much of it obtained by smuggling) which they freely admitted in last sentence of their Declaration of Independence:

“…And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Devine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our Sacred Honor.”

We’ve dabbled in obscure American history before, writing about the the ugly underbelly of war profiteering that accompanied the Revolutionary War, typified by a little known affair known to historians as “The Silas Deane Affair,” exposed by Thomas Paine at great personal cost to himself, but since then known only to a few arcane historians who uncover the scraps from buried archives and records of these underhanded and uncomfortable to acknowledge dealings.

We’ve also written previously about how most of America’s founding Congress profited handsomely by Alexander Hamilton’s Continentals to Dollars conversion/debt scheme to create the Founding Treasury Department, a scheme which James Madison privately complained about at the time by observing, “Of all the shameful circumstances of this business, it is among the greatest to see the members of this legislature who were most active in pushing this job openly grasping its emoluments.”

And about George Washington’s $500k (in 1780) Post-war Founding Expense Account

All of which can be found on line with simple searches…

So we probably should not be surprised to learn that Washington took significant financial advantage of his high office as President to enrich himself and his family and friends by private land deals accompanying the creation of Washington [sic] DC.

In combining his public service with personal gain, Washington unwittingly set a founding precedent which has been followed in one way or another by most of America’s subsequent elected officials. 

This latest “revelation” (known to a few reluctant historians who do their best to launder the uncomfortable historical facts with offsetting patriotic packaging) can be found buried in the otherwise mundane recent book by Nathaniel Philbrick, “Travels With George.” 

Philbrick is author of the much more interesting “In The Heart of the Sea” about the whaleship Essex and the real whale encounter that inspired Herman Melville’s classic “Moby Dick.”

In Philbrick’s recent knock off of John Steinbeck’s much better written “Travels With Charlie,” Philbrick writes about his personal attempt to retrace Washington’s inaugural trip around the Colonies-turned-United States in his uncreatively titled “Travels with George”:

“Washington’s long-held obsession with the Potomoc River blinded him to the impropriety of a president overseeing the construction of a city in the virtual backyard of his home — a city built with slave labor on land bought and sold by his friends and relatives. Washington didn’t want to be king, but there was a truly monarchical sense of privilege about the making of Washington DC. As John Adams later wrote, ‘George Washington profited from the creation of a the federal city on the Potomac by which he raised the value of his property and that of his family a thousand percent at an expense to the public of more than his whole fortune.’ … Until the end of his life, Washington, a man who prided himself on his impartiality, remained convinced that the construction of the capitol on the Potomac was in the nation’s best interests. And yet as a [unidentified] congressman at the time wisely commented concerning the President’s preoccupation with what became Washington DC, ‘almost all men form their opinions by their interest without always knowing the governing principle of their motives or actions’.”

“Men” in this case meaning the unidentified congressman’s colleagues who were “governing” in public office, not those much larger number of men and women who were not privileged enough to get themselves elected to an office where they could arrange certain things for their own personal enrichment.

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